Episode 6: Brian Price

the data files podcast episode 6

EPISODE 6: Brian Price – The Data Files

Data veteran and multiple CDO, Brian Price, joins Barry and Tony to chat through what he’s seen work, not work and change over the last two decades of businesses and people working with data.  

AI Transcription:

[00:00:00] Ben Culora: Hi. This podcast is brought to you by Practicus. Practicus is a recruitment, consulting and advisory business specializing in change and transformation. We hope you enjoy the podcast.

[00:00:13] Tony Cassin-Scott: Welcome to our next podcast on Data Leadership. With me today is Barry

[00:00:19] Barry Panayi: Hello

[00:00:19] Tony Cassin-Scott: and Brian Price

[00:00:21] Brian Price: Hello.

[00:00:21] Tony Cassin-Scott: Brian has a weath of knowledge going back decades, I think, uh, won’t say how many decades, but he’s got wealth knowledge in telco’s, retail, finance, insurance, to name of few. And today I think you’re a consultant, aren’t you, Brian? Yeah. Based on all of that and, uh, helping people do what,

[00:00:38] Brian Price: So I help, uh, organizations formulate their data strategy and the execution of that.

[00:00:42] Barry Panayi: Thanks for joining us in our data dungeon. Brian, hope you like it. I’d like to start off with, Hopefully what will open the floodgate to a controversial conversation. What do you think makes a good data leader?

[00:00:57] Brian Price: So I think there’s a couple of aspects of that barrier. I think the first one is an individual gets their hands dirty for one of a better term.

[00:01:03] Barry Panayi: Yes, that’s exactly it.

[00:01:05] Brian Price: And I think, you know, for me that’s a full spectrum of data that starts with strategy. You know, the governance around that, the data management, the data engineering, which sometimes is within the remit of, of your data vision, sometimes in the remit of the CIO.

And then looking at the outcomes of that around, you know, the insights, the AI and the modelling around. So I think, you know, having that full spectrum is in my mind, essential. Not that you necessarily need to practice it these days, but I think you need to be able to appreciate and have a deep appreciation of that.

And I think the second aspect, which is probably more tricky for some of us data professionals as I guess, introverts, is navigating the organization. You know, really understanding those value drivers and be able to connect with those data can be a black box to a lot of my colleagues, so really being able to kind of navigate that box as far as I go it’s the most exciting, most interesting, most fun black box you could ever operate in. But the. There’s two kinds of organizations. There’s organizations that look to tick boxes with data – oh, it’d be really good to have a data figure ahead here – and there’s organizations that really need and really get data.

[00:02:17] Tony Cassin-Scott: So, I mean, this isn’t a job interview, but they sound like there’s some challenges there. What would’ve been the biggest challenges to them?

[00:02:23] Brian Price: I think sponsorship. You turn up in the organization, you have your a hundred day plan. Everyone’s really, really, really excited. And then it comes to actually having that collaborative activity.

Data isn’t just the data team’s problem. We all own data. I think there’s a tendency to just compartmentalize it, push it over there, uh, let the data team, let the CDO, let the data leader, whoever it is. Work with that and play with that and come back to us and you have some great results and actually we all contribute to that.

So I think what’s worked really well in the past has been when you’ve got a CEO, you’ve got a senior exec sponsor who really gets it, champions it and works with you on that.

[00:03:02] Tony Cassin-Scott: So you mentioned it’s much of a, a black box, and I, I think that I, i, that chimes me, I can see that. So how do you open up that black box to, to the people who, a on the first hand are actually really interested to know what’s inside it, but secondly, probably the harder job is ones that really don’t care.

[00:03:18] Barry Panayi: When I add to your question there, Tony, um, are they, in your opinion, interested?

[00:03:23] Brian Price: I think it really, really varies on the kind of organization you are working in. So, um, those organizations that are typically digital operations, that really need that data, it’s the lifeblood of the organization, they’re looking at the data to help them with data led product development, they’re helping with them to understand the new features and capabilities that you should be deploying. They’re looking to see what the impact of that is. Those kinds of organizations deeply interested in data, and very, very, very productive. I think where you’re looking at data as being mmm, a governance kind of tool, uh, we need this for the regulator. Can you just please keep us safe? Whilst that’s incredibly important, I think the only aspect that’s of interest and the value to some of those organizations is just keep us safe. That’s it. That’s all we want. That’s all we’re interested in.

[00:04:16] Barry Panayi: That’s a dose of reality. I think we, uh, we talked about trying to be all things to all people.

I was very interested in your view there that if there is a predominant need for data, whether it be governance, keeping safe or productionizing models as quickly as possible for a digital pure play, then one should spike in that. I think that’s useful and honest and not something we hear from everyone.

And maybe back to the first question, that is what differentiates a good data leader from a bad one? You stole my second question, , because the second question was, does a data leader have to have got their hands dirty? I firmly believe they should. As do you. Yeah. You are welcome back here. But if I can spin it back, what makes a bad data leader then?

And I don’t wanna, don’t wanna set a trap for you here. I mean, I’ll, I will announce, I think there are a ton of bad data leaders, just like there are a ton of bad leaders. You know that a lot of hot air. Where have you seen it not work? What makes a bad data leader?

[00:05:14] Brian Price: So I think some of the, I think data became very, very fashionable probably in kind of the advent of big data.

And at that point I think you had a lot of people who moved into the industry who didn’t necessarily have that kind of, Um, nuts and bolts experience. So, um, I saw certainly a lot of individuals who were focusing on data strategy, focusing on a lot of theoretical aspects. And you have this great plan, but that’s it.

There’s no execution, there’s no appreciation of what’s required to execute. And I think if you’re going to deliver results you need be able to execute. You need to be able to, um, you know, um, fail fast, have a plan B, and be able to start iterating on those hypotheses that you have. And the only way you can do that is if you can really get into the weeds.

The other aspect is, Data’s merely an enabler. It’s an enabler to the business strategy. So unless you are really embedded in the business, you understand the commercial aspects of what’s required, you look at your insight to action plan, and you’re able to deliver results that really impact the bottom line of the business. If you can’t do that, I don’t think you’re gonna succeed.

[00:06:29] Tony Cassin-Scott: And you, you mentioned about leadership and the ability to execute. That usually comes with having a good team,

[00:06:38] Brian Price: People buy people, Tony. And I think, you know, if you’ve got an inspirational leader who gets it, who can, uh, train, motivate, mentor, and guide those individuals through their career path, they, they will work with you.

They will follow you from role to role. The challenge out there is there are so many different data technologies. There are so many different approaches these days. It’s a very, very, very rapidly moving landscape. So being able to keep up with that, being able to look at what some of the latest techniques are, what some of the latest tools are, being able to mentor individuals have that great team really, really helps.

But in order to do that, you also need to better pay them. And I think that’s where the value of your data leader comes in, is if you’re able to demonstrate the results. If you’re able to demonstrate their incremental benefits, you should therefore, in, you know, the monetization of your data asset, you should be able to reward your team as well.

[00:07:38] Tony Cassin-Scott: Want to touch on something here as about the sort of where the data or CDO type role is going? So, CIOs have been around for a long, long time. Not many of them make it to the CEO role? Mm-hmm. Tend to be a CIO, possibly COO. What do you see the path for the CDO in the future?

[00:07:56] Brian Price: For me personally, I’ve, I’ve never really, really wanted to move out of the data space. Where I have seen successful leaders who’ve really supported the data agenda. Those are individuals who’ve worked with data, they’ve led data organizations. They’ve led those pure play digital operations and become the CEO because that’s the lifeblood of the organization. So for me, I think if there’s right kind of organization, you can become the CEO, but it needs to follow that path of using data to drive outcomes.

It needs to follow the path of being able to generate those values. There are some organizations where I, I, I couldn’t see a CDO becoming in CEO, but certainly were a lot of organizations, certainly this day and age where I think that would be a really good career path for an individual. Do

[00:08:45] Barry Panayi: you think data leaders have been invested in by organizations in terms of that broad leadership, or have you had to do a lot of it yourself?

Because we talked about black box, it’s very techy. You’re valued for your SME knowledge. Yet I’ve, I’ve often seen data leaders had the finger pointed at them saying, Wait, but I can’t operate at this level. Is that because data leaders haven’t lent into broader leadership or haven’t have organizations almost not put resources into broadening that, that leadership skill?

[00:09:16] Brian Price: I don’t think we help ourselves sometimes as data professionals. . As I said earlier, I think a lot of us are introverts. A lot of us would prefer to hide in the shadows. A lot of us would really just like to get on with, with, with doing great coding and, and, and, and having a lot of fun exploring data. So I think we tend to shy away from, from the limelight sometimes.

So I think one needs to recognize that you need to be able to be able to, I guess, creep outta the shadows. And, and, and really set your stall out. And I think at that point, while I found is working with product leaders, technology leaders, and individuals who really innovate and drive an agile agenda.

Those are the kinds of individuals who really get data and work with the data data professionals and similar, That’s what’s helped me in my career.

[00:10:09] Tony Cassin-Scott: So it sounds like they’re mutually exclusive from what you described I the ability to inspire an ability to understand and manipulate data. Is that true or is it, or are we talking about a subset of people who, who have both that those hybrid skills or is it the fact that you have these mixed teams where you get the best out of.

[00:10:31] Brian Price: I think it’s a mixed team where you get the best out of people. When my career really took off was when we started working, uh, with an agile delivery model. We had cross-functional teams, we had our stakeholders who were looking for outcomes. We had our engineers who were coding them. We were showcasing our product.

We were working collaboratively around a common goal. I think we pull all those like-minded individuals into a group. and drive out those outcomes. It’s fun, it’s collaborative. You get like-minded individuals focused on the same goal.

[00:11:09] Barry Panayi: What I found interesting was looking at your kind of role of honor your cv.

You’ve moved across industries. Dunhumby, you know that eating, but data for breakfast before it became a big thing. Insurance as well. I have a hypothesis that. helps when you cross-fertilize ideas across industries and organizations. Did you find it easy to skip between different industries and sub-question, do you think that has helped?

[00:11:41] Brian Price: Yes and yes. When you work in retail, when you work in telco, I think you’re working, relatively speaking at a hundred miles an hour. You then kind of go into financial services. And the pace is slower, and sometimes it needs to be because you have to do the right thing. You’re looking at a regulated industry, you’re looking at a considered approach.

You can’t just suddenly rush something out. So there’s far more governance in that, But some of the techniques, some of the tools, some of the ways of working, which I alluded to earlier, actually bringing those into a financial services organization. Have admitted to me in the past that actually this is exactly what we want.

This is exactly how we should be delivering. Getting the right balance there between driving fast, but driving with, you know, the right amount of governance and the right set of controls around that, getting that mixing is really, really important. What was the second part of your question? Has it helped?

The velocity which you operate, The velocity which the team operates, I think is infectious. You start seeing more outcomes, you start seeing more value, and at that point more progression. The reward for good work is more good work. So I think if you can find the, the, the recipe that enables you able to deliver the right kind of results in agile fashion, the right set of controls, it works.

[00:12:59] Barry Panayi: And I get the sense that you are the sort of person that likes, the challenge of moving across industries and applying that stuff. Is it fair to say, do you think that the tenure of a CDO or equivalent role is short a couple of years and then they’re moving on? Cuz I’ve not seen any stats on this, but there seems to be a trope that is CDOs last two, three years if they’re, if they’re lucky.

Okay. I’m getting the gist that you, uh, you do agree as a short tenure. Now, do you think that’s because CDOs are flighty or, they get removed?

[00:13:34] Brian Price: It’s an incredibly difficult role for in a lot of organizations. So I think if your stakeholders don’t get the value of data, they’re not supporting the agenda. Um, they have particularly narrow set of outcomes and that’s it.

I think you end, you end up in a situation whereby it can become quite frictional. It’s almost like you, you handed the poison cellists in some organizations. Ah, you are the. Data leads. You are the new CDO . I think you need better to cut through that. You need to be able to look. Okay, what are the levers? A better drive that in some cases you’ve got great support for it.

In other cases it’s pretty tricky. And at that point, then it’s a revolving door.

[00:14:13] Tony Cassin-Scott: Is the data leader a change agent?

[00:14:15] Brian Price: I think you’re a key catalyst for the change. So without that understanding of where you are going, without that ability to be able to surface that data, that ability to be disruptive and really use data to drive the agenda. You’re not gonna get very far at all.

[00:14:29] Tony Cassin-Scott: So is the CDO a moment in time change agent of our day, but tomorrow, that role, tomorrow being a long way away, that tomorrow that role won’t exist cuz it won’t need to.

[00:14:40] Brian Price: The only constant change as far as I go, the only thing that runs through an organization that’s customer centric is data.

So I would say data’s a permanent fixture. I say that you should be able to embed that into your day to day processes and operations and appreciation of data. Historically it’s been the byproduct. You know, you put in the new application, you put in your new CRM tool, you put in new billing tool, whatever it might be, Oh, looks and oh yes, we’ve got some data.

Ah, what do we do with it? What should really think about is what are the outcomes we see? How can data support that? What? And therefore, what processes do we need to really generate that great data through it? So I think if you flip it around and. Yeah, data should be embedded in the organization. Data should be embedded in your ways of thinking.

I think we’re, we’re a constant source of inspiration.

[00:15:28] Tony Cassin-Scott: But do you see it as ending up as a commodity activity? So, for example, at the beginning of the 20th century, there’ll be somebody responsible for electricity generation in a factory that doesn’t exist anymore cuz there’s National Grid has commoditized or service.

Is data going the same way?

[00:15:46] Brian Price: I think a commodity sounds like it’s traded. It’s almost as if it’s something that you can pass from one individual to another. For me, it’s something that I think is, is far deeper than that, far more intrinsic into the organization. So the idea that it’s a commodity doesn’t necessarily resonate with me.

The idea that’s incredibly important and incredibly valuable to the operation and should be embedded within that and should be something that sustainable does. The idea of having a chief data officer always sounds a bit grandiose to me. I like to think I’m an individual that works in the data team that supports a set of outcomes, whether it’s the chief data officer, whether it’s the chief back carrier, whatever.

I’m not really too bothered about that as long as we’re using data to really support the organization and focus on the customer. So for me, I’d look at it. If I was going to look at it, I would look at it scientifically. It’s a lens, it’s a view onto the the customer. It’s a view onto your operations and therefore, I view the value as being measured through that rather than as something that’s a commodity or block, you know, a building block.

[00:16:53] Tony Cassin-Scott: I mean, Barry touched on this commerciality earlier, but how do you think the boardroom sees the CDO partner or a supplier?

[00:17:01] Brian Price: Quite often, I think you view it as a supplier. A supplier that probably in lot of organizations isn’t viewed as providing a very good service. So what’s the answer? You’ve gotta be able to view data as a service.

You’ve gotta view it as being an enabler. You’ve got to really focus on the outcomes that you get and the value that brings to your colleagues in the business.

[00:17:24] Barry Panayi: I’ll put a contrary argument forward and you tell me if you think it’s crap or not. I think boards need to understand the value of data more, and there aren’t many non-executive directors, people that sit on a board that get it, and I think that’s a problem, uh, there’s only so much bringing the horse to water you could take, That’s a statement that I just made. I’m not gonna say if I believe it or not, but it’s a statement. Uh, do you think boards are educated enough in this or do they just read their Harvard a business review article, speak to their local friendly McKinsey partner, get some words. And say them. Do they really get it?

[00:18:00] Brian Price: You, you make a fair point, Barry. A lot of the individuals are I’ve worked with at board level, have have operated in their domains of expertise for a number of years, and they haven’t needed data. You’ve got many, many years of creating great outcomes. Take insurance policies, renew money comes in the door.

It’s fine when you look at something more disruptive, when you start looking at how data can really support that new agenda. Some of those board members are lost. They dunno where to start. They haven’t had to use it. They haven’t had to rely on data. So at that point, when I say you should be looking at data as being a service, I guess the subtext behind that is that you are looking at really educating those individuals and helping them.

Helping them understand that black box. Unpack how you go about creating those outcomes and the value. Sometimes it can be a hard slog.

[00:18:56] Barry Panayi: Yeah, it’s hard if the CDOs only getting dragged into board meetings to get a kick. Bits a good beating. Yeah, that’s exactly it. As as hardly room or time for for education.

But I just wanted to explore that a bit because there’s a whole what makes a great data leader at exec level? What makes a great board pull the right leaders through? Uh, and if I can change tack, you mentioned building a great team underneath you, which is great. Hopefully the future CDO or whatever they’re called, , Where do you get these people?

Have you got a type? Do they come from certain backgrounds or are you a recruit for attitude, trained for skill kind of philosophy?

[00:19:35] Brian Price: You are looking for, for almost like a unicorn. Sometimes you’re looking for an individual who is quant. driven. You’re looking for someone who’s very practical, coding driven.

You’re looking for someone who is more of an extrovert than introvert to actually be able to help tell the data story and. It’s recognized as a problem on that front. Certainly some of the organizations I’ve worked in, were trying to get that mix is, is is not an impossible. So for me, if I see the right spark in an individual, I see, I like the way their mind works.

I like the exposure they’ve had to some of those backgrounds to say, you know, science, engineering technology, that inquisitive, curious mind that actually says, I can spot a data error at 10,000 paces. Or I can see an insight or I’ve got a hypothesis and who’s actually relatively chatty, brilliant. Bring will invest in them.

And I think those are some of the individuals who have really progressed really, really well. I think as an industry, I think we need to be embracing that kind of approach and really driving it and an agenda on that front to really train those people up. It’s. It’s very tricky, and certainly in today’s marketplace, it’s a candidate’s market, and I feel in some organizations you end up hiring individuals because they’re a warm body, not because they have all those attributes.

[00:20:58] Tony Cassin-Scott: I mean, I think there’s been an explosion in training, call it data training for want of a better term, of people who have gone on the bandwagon of data. , where do you think that’s going? Cause it feels a bit, sort of uhy. Yes. Yeah. Without substance. Yeah. There’s a lot of activity and a lot of companies have started up creating these sort of, these, these data unicorns as you, as you described.

[00:21:21] Barry Panayi: At, at junior level. You know how long the gestation period. To get to CDO 15, 20 years? Or is it, If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Yeah, I, I get that, that, so with the pipeline. Yes. Some shysters, some are good. You’ve got companies that are training grads. You’ve got some IT people trying it on that don’t really know what they’re doing, but they think data pay the more it.

But at this c, the level just below, who can you identify? Are you really focusing on bringing people in at the more junior levels and, and growing them? Or do you see people that are making sideways moves that have the profile at that leadership level? I personally find succession planning so incredibly difficult because people drop out on the way.

Uh, many people wanna stick in engineering or data science and get their hands too dirty. You go back to where we talked about at the beginning, the rounded individual. Yeah. Cause I think, well, actually I can earn X a hundred thousand pounds coding. So this, I don’t wanna get involved in politics and become step far away and become irrelevant.

The, the kind of the pool becomes very, very small of people that actually wanna grow into the big data leaders. I mean, that, that’s my point of view and I, I almost feel like that a hiring of leadership into data is becoming as difficult as is getting in the grant in the pipeline.

[00:22:36] Brian Price: Oh, it, it is that without a doubt.

All too often you find some of your best people, your technical subject matter experts. , they, they, they won’t necessarily lead a team. They won’t necessarily want to engage with your colleagues and almost pick up that poison c I was referring to earlier. So finding that individual who actually wants to progress, who wants to engage and wants to have fun and wants to inspire others, whether it’s within the team or influencing others, is incredibly difficult.

You know, at the end of day it’s a funnel, isn’t it? You know, you’re playing a numbers game, sorry, pun intended. Here you have a large set of individuals who, who could join your organization. You handpick those individuals with the right attributes and, and, and the right outlook and, and I invest in them.

Some of those make it through, and you’re right, the hit rate’s pretty low when you start coming into CDO level, but I think some of that’s still coming through the pipeline because, I mean, I dunno how, how long’s the term CDO been out there? Five years, 10 years.

[00:23:41] Barry Panayi: Yeah. Probably about between, between five and 10, wasn’t it?

Yeah. We spoke five years ago and uh, I, what? I was a cdo. We didn’t really know what it meant.

[00:23:49] Tony Cassin-Scott: That’s right. And five years ago. But stats, interesting stats. There were a hundred CDOs in the uk.

[00:23:54] Barry Panayi: and there’s probably a hundred in insurance now at least.

[00:23:57] Brian Price: Yes. So, yeah, and I think it’s also quite fashionable to, to almost like rework your CEU and say, I was a CDO 15 years ago.

You know, you get that old adage, Oh yes, we’re looking for someone who’s a cdo, the need to have had, you know, 200 years of experience, um, the need to have worked on this, this, this, and this, and we’re gonna pay them peanuts. So I think. Organizations don’t necessarily invest in CDOs. They don’t necessarily invest in their data leaders.

They don’t necessarily invest in their data team. I think we need to invest in ourselves. So I think at that point I go back to what I was saying earlier, which is grow the talent. I think if you work in something that’s adjacent, you’re very good on process. You are very good with understanding data. You are very good with being able to influence your colleagues to drive quality outcomes.

I’ve certainly seen individuals move into the data team around the data governance and data management side of things where you have a love of sql, where you have a love of processing data and really driving the right outcomes. I’ve seen people move into the engineering side of things, so I think there is the opportunity for individuals to gravitate into the team, and you nurture.

I’ve certainly seen, seen some great results on that front, but we do end up helping ourselves. It’s it, the idea of an organization setting up a data academy is pretty rare. I’ve seen it in one or two organizations out there. We’ve got some of your more progressive data leaders. They’ve partnered with the universities, they’ve partnered with industry, and that partnership really, really works if you’re looking to get them more experienced individuals into the organization it’s not easy.

[00:25:37] Barry Panayi: No, there’s a lot of crap out there as well as you say, Well, in corporate terms of funnel is pretty narrow.

[00:25:42] Brian Price: Yeah. Yeah. The, Yeah. And your hit rate’s pretty low. Yeah.

[00:25:46] Barry Panayi: Yeah. Thank you so much. I mean, I think we’re approaching the end, but Tony and I are creatures of habit down here in the data dungeon, and there is, uh, one question we’d like to ask all of our guests.

[00:25:58] Brian Price: Oh dear.

[00:25:58] Barry Panayi: So brace yourself.

[00:26:01] Tony Cassin-Scott: What’s the best piece of advice you never took?

[00:26:05] Brian Price: Don’t follow the money. , I was once offered a role that paid beyond my wildest dreams was always a catch. I think for me, focusing on the outcomes, focusing on an organization that really embraces data and focusing on an organization, what’s invest in their data professionals is incredibly important.

Don’t follow the money, follow the opportunities.

[00:26:28] Barry Panayi: Really expensive shoes you’re wearing .

[00:26:30] Tony Cassin-Scott: They are very nice though.

[00:26:31] Brian Price: I think if I’ve focused on the opportunity rather than focusing on the money, I think I would’ve had more fun in that particular role.

[00:26:38] Barry Panayi: In all seriousness, that, thank you so much for being honest on that and I think we’re all, you know, in such a hot market, that that is the temptation. I do appreciate that. Thank you.

[00:26:48] Tony Cassin-Scott: And I think your show is upstairs waiting for you. .

[00:26:51] Barry Panayi: The chopper’s just starting up. . Thank you Brian. Good luck escaping for the data dungeon.

[00:26:58] Brian Price: Thank you for having me. Thank you.